USC Professor Hosts Critical Code Studies Online Conference

The Humanities Go for the Code
BySusan Andrews

Welcome to the emerging world of online conferences for the humanities.

What began as an independent study for Mark Marino, assistant professor of writing in the University of Southern California College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, and an undergraduate student became an online working group that has brought together many of the top experts, thought leaders and practitioners in the rising field of the social history of computer programming. Marino who coined the field Critical Code Studies (CCS) calls it the entry into Digital Humanities.

“English majors and other humanities scholars cannot afford to ignore the technologies that are reshaping the academy and our world,” Marino warned. “Critical Code Studies offers them a way to apply their close reading skills to these powerful programs.”

The online conference that is now pushing 100 participants, 33 discussions and 13 videos uses Ning (a network similar to a blog), Twitter and Facebook. “The beginning of the conference started with a call I put over a few e-mail lists and called out over a few Twitter tweets,” Marino said. In addition to USC, Yale, MIT and Berkeley faculty and students, people have joined from major research universities around the world.

The varied topics of the conference range from computer hacking and hacktavism, to “Climategate,” to interpretations of the source code for the classic computer game Adventure. Noteworthy conference participants and presenters include Ricardo Dominguez from the University of California at San Diego and Wendy Hui Kyong Chun from Brown University.

Critical Code Studies joins platform and software studies in a growing area of cultural analysis of techno-culture.

The working group is analyzing the source code in languages such as Perl, Fortran, and C++ from computer games, Second Life, viruses, and electronic literature in simultaneous discussions that accompany the weekly guest presentations.  The online forum has offered participants the opportunity for asynchronous participation in a concentrated, one-time, six-week event. 

Marino commented, “It’s like an online writer’s retreat or a very intensive workshop. Working groups such as these might become the norm.

“With the mounting cost and inconvenience of travel, conferences like this using relatively news technologies are bound to grow in the coming years,” he continued.

CCSWG from Mark Marino on Vimeo.

View the introduction to the conference by Mark Marino above, or visit


An edited discussion will be published in electronic book review.

Upcoming conference topics to include the practice known as live coding and the work of net-based performance artist Mez (Mary-Anne Breeze).

The conference began on February 1 and continues through March 12. To join, participants can contact Marino via e-mail ( or Twitter (@markcmarino).